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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0008-0016

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-07-16

Friday. July 16th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography. Mr. Heyward has cheated the class very unhandsomely out of a miss, as is always usual upon entering a new book. The government certainly have some exceeding mean traits in their character and I think this late fine1 is one of the most remarkable instances of this character that has yet been shown. Had they punished them by public admonition, I imagine it would have had the same effect and would have been more honourable.
I attended a lecture of Mr. Channing’s this morning on style which appeared to me one of the best he has yet delivered. The first thing which we do, he said, is to analyze the feelings of the person writing, and his design. His method of expressing himself whether manifesting any force of genius or not. There were two classes of men he said, and with this he commenced his observations upon the utility of books for style, very different from each other but each striking particularly by contrast, the one was that class of men who have always applied themselves to books exclusively and have spent all their days in a library. They will tell that now there is nothing like originality, that a man is little else than a fool who attempts to do any thing out of the line marked out for him by older and standard Authors. What use they say or what advantage can be derived in attempting to do a thing which has already been done better probably than you are able. If you ask them whether conversation is not a good way of procuring knowledge and instruction, they will tell you that at best it is a very loose way of gaining information and that much time is lost which might be employed in study. If you ask them whether it is not well to walk out and study the face of nature, observe it’s beauties and enjoy the productions of the earth, They will say it is wasted time, for what is the use of taking much time to learn that by experience yourself, which you can { 243 } soon get by that of others. Life is too short for a man to obtain all knowledge of personal experience, we must trust to others who have gone before us. It is better to give up some of the knowledge than merely be a book worm.
There is another class as common or more so in the world and far more disgusting, when met with. It is that which rejects all books as the restraints and trammels of genius, which arrogates to itself all knowledge from an instinctive possession, who would only feel curbed by rules, and become tame when they could be great. Many characters there are who do aspire to this eminence but there are very few who truly are in this way affected. There are some. Vanity and Indolence however generally prompt this sort of boasting and are on this account exceedingly unpleasant. He said that reading was principally of use to store the mind with facts and images which by thought become our own. Almost all others may be charged with plagiarism if taking figures from others may be considered so, but he did not think it was. In reading, Ideas did not pass into the Memory sometimes but were retained insensibly as subjects of meditation until they came out entirely new modelled. He then went upon a little Metaphysics, he talked of the operations of the mind while awake and asleep and at last resembled it to a man who could direct a stream through innumerable channels in his garden. He might stop one and open another but he could not create or give force to the stream. A man might give his mind direction in it’s thoughts but he could not stop them or create them. But I have said enough of this lecture although much in the first part I have omitted—the advice as to reading also which, I might judge, was nothing but the medium between the extremes he described.
I employed the Morning in writing my Journal and reading a capital review on the subject of America and abuse of it in the Quarterly, it is a worthy chastisement and exhibits a powerful pen. In the afternoon I attended Declamation. The Sophomores commenced today, they were frightened out of their wits and spoke very poorly in general. After this, I attended Mr. Nuttall’s Lecture on the last class of Linnaeus, Cryptogamia. I read this Afternoon one Chapter of Mitford, concerning the affairs of Greece for the thirty years truce, the wars of Corcyra, Potidaea and finally the grand quarrel between Athens and Sparta. I also read a little of the romantic Anacharsis and looked over my Evening lesson. After Prayers, I gave my squad a drill, they did a little better but not perfectly well. After it was over, I went over to a Meeting of the officers at the First Lieutenants where we practiced the sword exercise, and performed a few of the manoeuvres in { 244 } platoons. The difficulty was however that our drinking provisions fell short very quick, which was a grievous thing to me. I returned home, read my Bible and retired immediately to bed. XI:30.
1. See entry for 14 July, above.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2016.